Family, Sacrifice and the American Dream
“Bean by bean, you fill the bag,” Teddy Kyriakidis would say. Those 7 words were the foundation of his life. He always believed that in life and business, you should never overlook or discount the small stuff. Every single customer, every single dollar, and every small thing matters. He believed you can’t go through life looking for that big payoff that may never materialize, like betting it all on the long shot. Instead, take care of every single customer and make them important. That is what will fill your bag. Be patient, caring, and mindful, and you will see your reward. It was that idea that shaped Teddy’s life.
Coming to America in in 1951, he brought with him nothing but a dream. He dreamed about a better life for his family, a chance to live the “American Dream” in “God’s country”. He stepped off the boat with no money, no knowledge of the English language, little education and only one contact thousands of miles from home. Wife Betty jokes that, “he was on a boat that morning and serving Clam Chowder in his uncle’s restaurant that afternoon.”
It was 2 brothers from New Jersey and their small 52 seat restaurant that would help Teddy to live that “American Dream” he came in search of. After working at Harry’s Restaurant for 7 years, the aging brothers sold Teddy the restaurant. It was in that restaurant in Asbury Park, that he learned how to run a successful business and likewise found his passion. It was also in that restaurant that he hired a conservative, Southern blonde waitress with no experience. That waitress, that didn’t know a Danish from a hard roll, would later become his wife.
After years of triumph and hard times, Teddy again left everything behind in search of a better life. He sold his home and restaurant, and moved his family to a better life in New York City. He wanted to give his children the best life he could provide. He wanted to teach his children not just about living, but surviving. Son Nick, laughing, said that he owned a produce business at age 8. Each week, Teddy would take his children to the local produce markets in the city to buy produce the children would later sell. At a young age, he instilled the business and life skills that they would carry with them through their lives.
Growing up, Nick remembers asking his father why he always worked so hard and Teddy replied, “When you go to bed hungry at night, you want to make sure that it never happens to you or your family ever again.” He was always dedicated to his restaurant and his customers, but his family was the center of his life. Teddy lived for his family, making every sacrifice necessary to ensure his family never had to endure the struggles he faced.
When the Kyriakidis family closed their restaurant, Little Athens, in East Ridge and opened Acropolis Grill, they knew it too would be a family affair. While it may have been Teddy’s restaurant, Betty and the children each played an important role in its success. From cooking and cleaning to serving and bussing tables, the restaurant became a family gathering place for not only their family, but other families. It was an extension of their dining room presented for your enjoyment. The Acropolis was where you could come to enjoy a meal together, to enjoy good food and company.
Though times have changed and Teddy has passed away, his influence still lives on. He was more than just an inspiration to his children. His impact reached far beyond his restaurants. He enjoyed sharing his stories with others, a way to give advice to a younger generation. Many remember Teddy taking them back to the kitchen to watch him cook, teaching children how his dishes were made. For him, that was how you filled the bag. He believed in sharing with others, giving back and sharing God’s blessings.
Teddy’s influence and principals are the beans that have filled our bags. We hope that, in turn, we can help to fill yours.